I received a link, clicked on it, and in a matter of minutes, there was my doctor. We had plenty of time to discuss my concerns, talk through options, and decide on a course of treatment. It was convenient, and I didn’t have to take time away from work for travel to her office and sit around a waiting room with other potentially ill patients. Certainly, depending on my health concerns, there are times that I would need to see my doctor in person. But I will definitely consider a telehealth visit again.
Use of telemedicine has increased exponentially. Across the U.S. alone, nearly half of healthcare consumers are now using telehealth, according to consultants McKinsey—up from one in 10 last year. In its 2020 State of Telemedicine Report, researchers reported that more than 20% of healthcare visits had been delivered using telemedicine during the year. Using data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality's Medical Expenditure Panel Survey and private claims data, Doximity researchers found that since the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of U.S. adults who participated in at least one telemedicine visit increased by 57%. Researchers postulate that telemedicine will replace a large percentage of emergency department visits and play a more prominent role in home healthcare support. Further, researchers predict that virtual care will transform the majority of Medicare, Medicaid, and privately insured office visits in the coming year.
Physicians who may have been resistant to telemedicine have now seen how it can help to extend care and they are embracing the technology. Once the pandemic is over, experts expect that telemedicine will play a much larger role in healthcare than it did previously. Telemedicine could accomplish two goals: Keep people engaged and involved in healthcare, and facilitate physicians’ ability to meet the needs and interests of their patients.
The rapid adoption of telemedicine does present challenges. Telemedicine certainly has the potential to improve access for patients who struggle to get care, including those in remote areas and those with transportation issues or disabilities that make in-person visits difficult. However, there is also the chance that telemedicine could exacerbate already existing inequities in healthcare.
Nearly half of those 65 years and older and more than 60% of those without a high school education don’t own video-enabled devices like smartphones. People experiencing homelessness also frequently have their possessions stolen or face challenges in charging their phones. Even patients with a video-enabled devices may not have access to the type of high-quality video stream optimal for telehealth visits. Increasingly, low-income and minority populations access the internet only from smartphones. That’s a problem because cellular data is often lower quality than a wired internet connection. Monthly smartphone costs also rise after data limits are exceeded, which happens more quickly when video is employed. These are important issues for the healthcare community and policymakers to consider.
As for clinicians, there are many issues still on the table—challenges and risks such as privacy and security, legal and regulatory issues associated with the use of telehealth, cybersecurity, cross-border licensure, prescribing, and credentialing. MPL insurers are working with their insureds to navigate this changing landscape, allowing healthcare professionals to continue to provide quality care for their patients while facilitating access through telehealth.